“Children, especially adolescents, are sometimes interested in and curious about sexuality and sexually explicit material. They may be moving away from the total control of parents and seeking to establish new relationships outside their family.” – FBI, A Parent’s Guide to Internet Safety
It’s a little unnerving, isn’t it, that your children may be seeking out the online company of the very people you are trying to protect them against? In their publication, the FBI describes how internet predators use this curiosity to befriend your kids. The reality is, the predator probably knows more about your kids’ likes and dislikes – what is popular and what the cool slang terms are – than you do. You see, they need to know all this so that they can gain the trust of children. The children, in turn, find in the predator a companion – one that is easier for them to talk to about embarrassing subjects than their parents. The fact of the matter is that letting your kids online is a much more risky endeavor than letting them walk through the neighborhood alone at night. There are so many more predators who have access to your kids on the internet than there will ever be in your neighborhood.
According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, one in seven children are solicited for sex on the internet. One in three receive unsolicited sexual content online. 34% of children on the internet communicate with people they don’t know. The numbers are staggering, but shouldn’t surprise us as we consider our own online experience. I communicate with people I don’t know quite frequently online, and a few of them have turned out to be very weird. I get unsolicited content all the time just by checking my trash folder in my online email account. The only one that is truly shocking is the first one. One in seven kids. What this tells us adults is that predators are very good at finding kids while avoiding us.
The idea of spying on our kids is very distasteful to us, especially when we remember how intrusive our own parents may have been. The reality, though, is that we never faced what our children do. When I was a kid the rules I had to remember were, “Don’t take candy from a stranger,” and, “Never accept a ride from a stranger – even when it’s raining.” The problem today is that by the time a child meets the predator face-to-face they no longer consider them a stranger at all but rather a good friend.
And I haven’t even talked about non-predator related issues. What do you suppose might happen if your 6 year old does a Google search on that word he heard today at school? The world has changed and we should consider changing with it.
Putting security measures and even reading your kids’ email doesn’t have to be a huge issue. I would suggest letting them know right up front that you are doing it. Let them know that you don’t want to invade their privacy and that they are more than welcome to have private conversations with their friends in person or on the phone, but they should understand that their time online is public and not intended for private communications. Find software that works for you or limit their computer use to a family computer that is only on when you are in the room. Even then, child safety software would not be a bad plan.